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The UK needs joined-up thinking

CCE was pleased to submit evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee’s (EAC) inquiry into the circular economy. While this debate may not be new for those in recycling and the fast-moving consumer goods manufacturing sectors, only now is the concept being discussed at a more advanced level on the political landscape.

Earlier this month, the EAC published its report. Now the Government needs to act on the crucial findings, in particular the need for more consistency in household recycling collections, and to consider what added incentives can be offered to packaging producers to ensure their products are recyclable and made with more recycled content.

Councils were never setting out to be the first step in a circular economy when they first established waste collection services. But they have already done a great job, and are best placed to take this forward with good relationships with householders and in-depth understanding of collection services.

CCE is determined to be part of the solution, believing packaging to be an important and valuable resource. There is an opportunity for more packaging to be recycled and reused for longer.

The company is one of the largest users of recycled plastic bottles and cans in the country, and has pledged to reduce the materials used across all packaging by 25% by 2020. Currently, 70% of our products are consumed in the home, which is why we are focusing on this area.

CCE Opinion

We know that close to 75% of our packaging across Europe is collected for reuse or recycling, but in Great Britain this is slightly lower at around 60%. So it is clear that there is more to do to further encourage collection, as well as ensure materials are collected and reprocessed in a way that maximises their value, for example by returning them to shop shelves as new bottles.

We would like to do more but are still currently limited by the availability of a long-term supply of quality material.

Last year, we partnered with the University of Exeter to conduct research into consumer recycling behaviour. We observed that the confusion associated with household recycling, and the complexity of schemes, often act as major obstacles to improving at-home recycling rates.

This is consistent with the EAC finding that consumers find the vast number of localised collection schemes in England confusing, making it hard for companies to access valuable material which could be reused. This also prevents consistent on-pack information about a product’s recyclability.

CCE has outlined its own five-point plan in the journey to support the circular economy in order to achieve:

  • A move to a consistent, efficient, best practice council recycling collection system. Central Government needs to support these discussions with individual councils and the Local Government Association, along with businesses and others who can play a positive role in this approach.
  • A nationwide business- and Government-backed consumer behaviour change campaign. Such campaigns will only work if local authorities join together for co-ordinated and inspiring communications.
  • Reform of the current packaging recovery note (PRN) Producer Responsibility Scheme to incentivise the design for recyclability of packaging; encourage the use of recycled content; and ensure a greater share of PRN money goes to councils to improve householder recycling communications.            
  • A concerted effort to identify the best collection schemes and make sure they are adopted.                     
  • More collaboration between councils on procurement and service delivery to improve efficiencies, deliver improved service for taxpayers and ensure scalable recyclate quantities. 

Now is the time for central and local government to co-ordinate their efforts in moving towards a circular economy. Businesses should certainly be doing their bit to support and drive the process and, on the whole, this is something they are willing to do, but the Government could be playing a far more active role.

I would encourage people across the industry to get involved and join in the debate. Let us know your views on next steps for the circular economy via Twitter:

@CokeCCE and @MRWMagazine

Nick Brown, Associate Director for Recycling at Coca-Cola Enterprises Great Britain.

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